Monday, July 05, 2010

It makes you wonder why we try...

To persuade people to our point of view.  It's really hard, and I think becoming harder for us to change our  minds, especially on issues we deem important.  This could be one reason political compromise is so hard, and Congress so dysfunctional.

Much of the reason may be simply how our minds are built.
Max Bazerman, Harvard Professor and author of one of our favorite books, Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, offers some clues on why we find it so hard to appropriately weigh new informaiton that goes against our prior beliefs:
The first has to do with the way the human mind is designed to retrieve information from memory. The mere consideration of certain hypotheses makes information that is consistent with these hypotheses selectively accessible (Gilbert, 1991, How Mental Systems Believe). Indeed, research shows that the human tendency to entertain provisional hypothesis as true even makes it possible to implant people with false memories.

We also succumb to the confirmation trap due to how we search for information. Because there are limits to our attention and cognitive processing, we must search for information selectively, searching first where we are most likely to find the most useful information. One consequence is the retrievability bias.
Another consequence is that people search selectively for information or give special credence to information that allows them to come to the conclusions they desire to reach (Kunda, 1990, The Case for Motivated Reasoning).
A lot of this boils down to psychology. Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, beliefs, attitudes, or opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent. Dissonance produces an uncomfortable mental state the the mind needs to resolve. In resolving dissonance our minds trend towards self-justification which makes it hard to admit mistakes. [More]
Notice the reaction to the HSUS/OFB compromise on animal care standards.

“Dismayed” and “betrayed” are two words being used being used by farmers and ranchers in Ohio—and across the entire U.S.—in reaction to the compromise agreement between Ohio’s ag and livestock organizations and HSUS.
Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely says he understands those strong sentiments, many of which are based on the belief that HSUS wants to abolish animal agriculture.
“I could not agree more with those people,” Cornely says. “We at Ohio Farm Bureau fully recognize and believe that is the ultimate goal of the Humane Society of the United States—just as our ultimate goal is to not let that happen.  We haven’t given up the battle—we’ve just changed the rules of engagement.” [More]
That is a real stretch even for FB spin, IMHO.  My assessment is they essentially read the handwriting on the wall, and then committed farmers who couldn't be there because they hadn't been born yet to the solution.  Given the age of a typical FB group, it would appear they allowed time for themselves to finish a career before massive changes in practices have to be implemented.

But there are certainly other interpretations.  Perhaps negotiators are trying to stall, while pushing for ex post facto changes by the legislature, hoping the HSUS will lose clout over time.  Perhaps they think more producers agree with the changes than is apparent now.

Finally, we could be overestimating the actual production and economic impact of these changes.  At best they add a few percentage points of rather grim efficiency to production.  Showing evidence of being sensitive to consumer concerns could outweigh these losses in the long run.

One thing I suspect is certain: farm negotiators were not optimistic about what would happen in a referendum.  Those kind of stark expectations can change your mind.

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